IDPR Featured Article is free to access for three months

Posted on July 12, 2016 by Chloe Johnson
The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected 'Informality, urban governance and the state: negotiations of space in Dhaka and the Pearl River Delta' by Kirsten Hackenbroch, Shahadat Hossain, Uwe Altrock, Sonia Schoon and Harald Sterly as the Featured Article for issue 38.3. It will be open access for three months.

At the beginning of the Asian century, and just after the 'urban turn', it becomes very clear that established models and theories of urban planning and analysis are not able to capture the extreme growth and development dynamics of South and East Asian megacities. Statutory urban planning and governance is complemented, if not to a degree superimposed by informal processes and structures, which cannot be explained by a lack of steering capacities alone.

How can the different role and characteristics of informality in the production of urban space be understood and explained, and what determines the quality of the processes and outcomes, for example in terms of housing provision, economic prospects or overall urban development trajectories?

The authors take a comparative approach, building on research in the two distinct urban areas of Dhaka (Bangladesh) and the Pearl River Delta (China). Dhaka is characterised by an unstable political environment and political parties that are only selectively able and willing to deliver functional urban services. In contrast, the PRD represents a relatively stable political environment in a one-party state, with the need for the state to legitimise modernisation and to keep possible rates of dissatisfaction in the population low.

In order to compare the production of space in the two agglomerations, the authors develop an analytical framework that takes into account the spheres of structural contexts, political cultures, institutional milieux and political actors, as well as their linkages through power relations, cultural intermediations and modes of interactions. With this framework, three forms of urban space production are compared in the two agglomerations and the relevance of informal modes of negotiation is assessed for each of those. First, strategic urban planning encompasses the visions and master plans set for the cities. Second, urban extension denotes current projects of expanding residential areas for the city. Third, urban regeneration spans from projects of re-developing industrial sites to the way city authorities approach inner city neighbourhoods of the urban poor. Informality in this context is understood as involving interactional, institutional, status as well as power-related aspects, going beyond conventional conceptions of formal-informal dichotomies. This reading of informality – beyond the appropriation of urban resources by those denied full citizenship recognition – this paper underlines the strategic dimensions of informality in diverse modes of the production of space.

The authors demonstrate how the production of urban space and the character of the respective negotiation processes are significantly influenced by a state’s political stability, its development orientation and the possibilities for public participation. In the relatively stable political system in China, the state strategically and carefully concedes informality to a certain degree, in order to retain its agency and flexibility in shaping mega-urban growth. The unstable setting in Dhaka and the lack of the state's commitment to development in contrast provokes the appropriation of public resources by rich and powerful actors.

The authors conclude that the strategic concession of informality in planning and urban development processes can support balanced transformations and development on the one hand, but that informality in the form of resource appropriation prevents informal space production from serving public interest.

The paper can be found here.
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